I just finished Patricia Lockwood’s debut novel, No One Is Talking About This. The novel is a sprawling series of vignettes that form a meditation and commentary– at times tragic, but often quite hilarious- on American culture and politics in the age of postmodernity and declining empire. It tackles grief, family, sex, and, centrally to the plot– which itself is secondary to Lockwood’s poetic prose- the internet. A Reddit-esque platform, The Portal, serves as the fulcrum for the series of threads in the plot, which follows the unnamed narrator, a woman in her late thirties (like Lockwood herself), as she navigates the era of Trump, postmodern internet meme culture, and the nature of loss.
The narrative is probably as enjoyable for a zoomer as for older generations that grew up before Baudrillard, Foucault, and other academics characterized ideas that would later come to define the global electronic cesspool that is social media, with its hieroglyphic, self-referential, disposable content. What’s the deal with our quest for internet fame? Why do we waste so much time on social media? Are we looking for answers, or are we just looking for recognition in an age of increasing separation, increasing loneliness, and the increasing oppression of the existential triple threats of American fascism, corporate power, and the climate crisis?
A secondary focus of the novel seems to be the constant tension within American liberalism, between a quest for rational tolerance and inclusivity, and, on the other hand, the relentless push toward political correctness, cancel culture, and hypercorrecting, kneejerk reactions from often well-meaning but politically-befuddled participants in the conversation:
“To cheer her up, she considered telling her about that post where someone claimed that telling pregnant women not to shoot up heroin was classist, or something like that.”
It is these sorts of pithy and ridiculous asides that make the novel such a fun read, especially bounding the more particularly tragic plot points that define the second half of the novel. While a gently flowing, elegant, poetic style of prose, Lockwood creates a critical portrait of American society that is poignant, and simultaneously both scathing and hilarious.